×

‘Billions’ Season 3 Hums Behind the Scenes as Characters Grapple With Political ‘Earthquake’

When “Billions” begins its third season tonight on Showtime, viewers will find Chuck Rhoades, Bobby Axelrod and the rest of the gang digging out from the upheaval inflicted by Rhoades’ machinations at the end of season two.

The characters return to an unsettled environment, but the show set in the world of Wall Street is running like a finely tuned sports car in the view of showrunners Brian Koppelman and David Levien, who created “Billions” with Andrew Ross Sorkin. “Billions” has hit the season-three sweet spot that comes after a series proves itself in season one, and then proves in its sophomore year that season one was no fluke.

“The characters have moved now from any kind of archetypal place to a much more real place,” Levien told Variety. “As we get to know the actors better it becomes that much more real.”

The “Billions” ensemble is an unusually brainy bunch, adds Koppelman. “These actors are all super high-IQ people. They can handle anything that (the writers) throw at them. They allow us to fully imagine these characters in a way that as a creator is an extraordinary gift.” 

The strengths, flaws, foibles and yearnings of the key characters played by Damian Lewis (Axelrod), Paul Giamatti (Rhoades), Maggie Siff (Wendy Rhoades) and Malin Akerman (Lara Axelrod) are also established enough that there’s not as much track to lay to make the storylines work.

“On the day our actors show up to work they just are these characters,” Koppleman says. “There’s very little separation in our minds between the actors and the characters. We’re being completely true to who these characters are now, so their actions make sense even though the circumstances have changed and the world has shifted. The pressures on Chuck and Axe are different.”

At the close of season two, Chuck Rhoades, the zealous U.S. attorney in New York who polices Wall Street, has orchestrated an elaborate sting that finally snares his long-sought prey — hedge fund kingpin Axelrod — but at great cost to the Rhoades clan, and perhaps to his own ambition to become governor of the Empire State.

The shift in tone and tactics at the Justice Department in the real world is reflected in the new season even if the name “Trump” itself is not uttered once during the season. (Koppelman hasn’t been shy about expressing via social media his outrage at the current administration.)

Veteran actor Clancy Brown (“The Shawshank Redemption”) joins “Billions” this season as bare-knuckles political brawler from Texas, Waylon “Jock” Jeffcoat, who becomes the new U.S. Attorney General. He seems destined to keep his cowboy boots planted on Rhoades’ neck.

“We do reflect that there’s been a change in the administration,” Levien says. “It changes the business climate and the prospects for big business and rich billionaires. Everybody’s facing the reckoning of who’s going to be the chosen ones and who’s going to go down.”

As ever, an eclectic mix of music is integral to telling the “Billions” story. The season opener offers a megaphone for distinctive tunes from two emerging singer-songwriters, Garrett T. Capps and Lucy Dacus, with a little old-school New York punk from the Dictators thrown in for good measure.

“The songs are huge keys to understanding what’s going on in the show,” Koppelman said. “There’s been an earthquake of sorts in our world, as is the case in the real world. When there’s a seismic event, alliances shift and loyalties are tested. Our show picks up with our characters in world that is now facing those circumstances.”

More TV

  • South Park Donald Trump

    TV News Roundup: Comedy Central Sets 'South Park' Season 23 Premiere Date

    In today’s TV News roundup, Comedy Central announces the premiere date of “South Park” Season 23 and Netflix sets the premiere date and offers a first look at “Unbelievable.”  DATES Comedy Central announced that Season 23 of “South Park” will premiere Wednesday, Sept. 25 at 10 p.m. Because the episodes are written and animated so [...]

  • US actor Kevin Spacey (C) is

    Kevin Spacey Shouldn't Be Exonerated in Hollywood Even as Criminal Case Ends (Column)

    The news that criminal charges against Kevin Spacey in the Nantucket groping case have been dropped raises an inevitable question: does this mean he can claw his way back into Hollywood’s good graces? Or maybe more importantly: should it?  Spacey’s rapid descent was startling, even as it quickly followed that of the once untouchable producing [...]

  • Game of Thrones

    HBO's Return to Emmy Nomination Dominance May Be Short-Lived (Column)

    As Hollywood braces for the coming streaming wars, HBO’s huge Emmy nomination haul this week sent a new salvo Netflix’s way: The streamer may have the volume, but HBO still has the goods. At least this year. HBO’s record-breaking 137 nominations came on the strength of just 23 programs — led, of course, by “Game [...]

  • Lionsgate CEO Jon Feltheimer

    Starz Nears Realignment: Why Lionsgate Won't Hire a CEO to Replace Chris Albrecht

    Nearly six months after Starz CEO Chris Albrecht exited in February, Lionsgate brass is moving closer to a revamp of the premium TV network’s executive structure. According to insiders, at least one thing is clear: Albrecht is not expected to be replaced as CEO. Instead, Lionsgate chief executive Jon Feltheimer is taking a more active [...]

  • Titans Ep. 102

    'Titans' Crew Member Dies After Stunt Goes Wrong at Special Effects Facility

    A crew member of DC Universe show “Titans” died following an incident during rehearsal at a special effects facility in Toronto on Thursday. The stunt, which involved a car, went awry when a piece of the car broke off unexpectedly and struck a special effects coordinator. Production will be shut down for two days. “We [...]

  • One Percenter TV Shows

    New Wave of TV Shows Lets Viewers Watch the Rich Get Their Just Deserts

    “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” reads the sign at the entrance to the massive Gemstone family compound. It goes on: “No trespassing.”  “The Righteous Gemstones,” the new HBO comedy debuting Aug. 18, depicts a family that’s as pious about other people’s fortunes as it is protective of its own. Led by patriarch John [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content